A few weeks from now, on March 19, we will celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While this is an important feast day every year, this year is also the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s declaration giving St. Joseph the title, “Patron of the Universal Church.” In anticipation of this special occasion, I wanted to share with you how St. Joseph can be an important example for us in living as disciples of Christ.
One of the things we learn about St. Joseph very clearly is that he was a faithful man. He was obedient to the religious traditions of his time, as can be seen when he learns of Mary’s pregnancy. Rather than exposing this publicly, which would have cost Mary her life, he decides to “divorce her quietly.” But more than his faithfulness to his Jewish faith, St. Joseph was faithful to God through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This gave him the courage to take Mary as his wife when he heard the voice of the angel. We might ask ourselves, how are we being called to be more faithful? How can we make more time to listen for the voice of God and to respond to where the Holy Spirit is leading us?
A second characteristic we know about St. Joseph is that he was the protector of his family. This is clear in the way he responds to Mary’s pregnancy, but it’s also clear when he takes his family to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod. St. Joseph willingly leaves behind everything he knows in order to ensure that his family is safe.
Like St. Joseph, we are all called to be protectors. Our first responsibility is to our family. Is there someone in your family that needs special protection or care right now? How might you support them? As Christians, though, we must remember that we are all part of the family of God. Thus, we are called to care for and protect all people, especially the poor and vulnerable. So perhaps God is calling us to take a special role of protection, care and support for the unborn, or for the homeless in our community, for the sick and elderly, or for immigrants and refugees who are trying to start a new life in our diocese.
The third characteristic of St. Joseph that I want to highlight is his humility. We find this trait more from what is not said in the Scriptures than what is said. We know he was a carpenter or laborer, but beyond that, we don’t know much about St. Joseph’s life. But we see his humility in his willingness to fade into the background. It’s safe to say that St. Joseph had a significant influence on Jesus, laying a foundation for his life and preparing him for his ministry. But rather than asserting himself, St. Joseph remains hidden from his sight, known more by his actions than his words. How might God be calling us to model this life of humble service? In what ways can we lay the foundation for Jesus to work in the lives of others?
So, as you can see, we have much to learn from St. Joseph. In honor of this special anniversary, in the coming weeks I will be releasing a pastoral exhortation about St. Joseph and how renewed devotion to him can help us overcome some of the challenges we are facing in our church and in our world today. In the meantime, I invite you to spend some time reflecting on St. Joseph and how you can follow his example in your own life. In particular, I would encourage you to make some time to visit the Shrine of St. Joseph at Old St. Joseph Church on the St. Norbert College campus in De Pere. You can visit for the weekly novena to St. Joseph held every Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.